This is the first of three posts by students who attended last week’s “Milestones in Mentoring” events in Chicago.
By Taylor Shelnutt
Last Thursday, I had the privilege of attending The Plank Center’s 5th Annual Milestones in Mentoring Gala in Chicago. As a PR student at the University of Alabama, this felt similar to being in the presence of royalty (for example, I was star struck while riding the elevator with Andy Polansky). I truly lived the PR dream that night.
Being in the presence of so many PR legends in one place – Harold Burson and Al Golin, just to name a couple – was only the first bonus. Then there was the abundance of professionals itching to share their knowledge and answer a few questions from a Southern girl with big-city dreams. Add in the fine dining and deeply moving speeches, and it was a night to remember.
The energy of the Union League Club was vibrant, the people were exceptionally kind, and the entire event proved why The Plank Center is a world-renowned resource for leadership in public relations. As impressive as the Gala was, the #PlankMentor panel preceding the dinner was the perfect touch to reach students who are aspiring to be included in the class of professionals in attendance. It was a pleasure to hear from the six honorees as they answered some of the most pressing questions that were tweeted prior to the event.
Summing up the night will never do it justice, but these five highlights of wisdom will stick with me for years to come:
1. Fuel your curiosity.
In Patrick Ford’s words, “The smartest people are the ones asking the questions.” Employers love to see applicants who are genuinely interested in the organization and have past experiences that have allowed them to grow intellectually.
2. Distinguish yourself.
The PR field is incredibly competitive, and as hard as it is to admit, there are plenty of other students just like you and plenty more who have had even more professional experience. If you don’t find ways to stand out from the crowd, you’re just another social media-savvy millennial.
3. Be proactive.
When entering the workforce, take initiative in going the extra mile and anticipating what is needed of you before you’re asked. Know your prospective employer. As Andy Polansky said, “Recruit the agency. Don’t wait until the agency recruits you.” Make yourself known and indispensable.
4. If you’re not passionate, you’re not doing it right.
By choosing to work in PR, you are choosing to subject yourself to the pressure of a 24/7 news cycle and an ever-evolving digital arena. You have to know when to remove yourself and take a breather. However, work should never feel like a burden. If it’s where you’re supposed to be, “work” is part of who you are and what makes your life enjoyable.
5. Life surprises you.
From talking with people who were in my position just a few years ago and have now landed jobs in the industry, I realized that what you think you would like doing usually isn’t the job you’ll get hired for. Even if you come in with preconceived notions of what you’re good at, you may get assigned to a team or a department that you never considered. You could end up building relationships and discovering a hidden passion for something completely new.
In short, there is nothing like being surrounded by so many people who share my passion for communicating with the public. It blows my mind knowing how difficult it is to enter this field, but at the same time, it’s a thrilling challenge. I can’t wait to attend the Milestones in Mentoring Gala again a few years down the road … but from the other side of the fence. I want to be the one leading and mentoring students, encouraging them to pursue their PR dreams because it IS possible and it IS worth it!
Ann Barkelew said it best to the students: “You are about to embark on the greatest adventure of your life.”
What will your adventure look like?
Taylor Shelnutt is a junior majoring in public relations and Spanish at the University of Alabama. She is the Social Media Committee Leader for the Alabama PRSSA Chapter and is the Assistant Firm Director and an Account Executive for Capstone Agency.